Europe’s rifts reflected in ‘postcard from Prague’ – AFP
Rifts among the 44 EU leaders surfaced Thursday even as they posed at Prague Castle, the seat of the Czech presidency overlooking the city, according to French news agency AFP. European Council head Charles Michel was on the left of Hungarian President Viktor Orban, seen as the bloc’s troublemaker over his lax stance on corruption laws and close ties to Putin. European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen mirrored him on the far right edge in the hall, making it clear that the EU and the new community initiative were two different things. French President Emmanuel Macron, the mastermind behind the initiative, said the project was designed to send a message of “unity” and “strategic intimacy”. He himself took centre stage between Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades in the front row. To Fiala’s right, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, slammed by the EU over his country’s clashes with Armenia, stood next to his ally Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, also seen as problematic by the bloc. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who met both Aliyev and Erdogan for talks earlier on Friday, was tucked behind Erdogan in the second row. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, criticised for hesitating on sending modern weapons to Ukraine, was at the back in the third row. Vjosa Osmani, the president of EU hopeful Kosovo, went into the meeting hailing it as an opportunity to meet European peers “on an equal footing”. But she might have been upset with the photo as she was stuck on the back at the edge, largely shaded by the towering Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal. The absence of President Putin – 70 today – and his ally, Belarusian strongman President Alexander Lukashenko, also highlights the deep divide between their and the rest of the continent.
4 EU countries propose a ‘dynamic price cap’
Italy, Poland, Greece and Belgium, have proposed a “dynamic price cap” to be applied in a scenario in which there was no lack of supplies and there was an exchange of gas supply and demand. To face the energy crisis, in an unofficial document, they speak of a ‘dynamic corridor’: “It is possible to establish a central value for this corridor and review it regularly, taking into account external reference parameters and allowing fluctuations around the central value”. The ‘non paper’ containing the proposal has been circulated to European institutions, the Commission and will also be among the proposals subject to debate among the member countries. The document envisages that the application of this ‘dynamic corridor’ to the price of gas has a “central value that would represent a maximum limit that can be placed on a reference hub. Furthermore, the document reads, “fluctuations around the central value would be possible to provide price signals for the movement of gas through the member states, in the event that more hubs reach the maximum”.
Brits will be paid to use washing machines at night
Millions of UK households will be paid to use electricity outside peak hours this winter through a new scheme – as experts have warned there could be blackouts. System operators said an “unlikely” shortage of gas could result in families suffering planned three-hour power cuts to protect energy supplies. It said the number of people left without electricity – and which areas could be affected – would depend on how many gas power stations would be forced to shut down. To help avoid blackouts, families will be being encouraged to sign up to a new a scheme which would give them money back on their bills to use appliances outside of high demand times. For example, this could be using the washing machine or dishwasher at unsociable hours, or charging the electric car outside peak times. The newly launched service will work as an opt-in system for those with a smart energy meter.Households would receive a text message asking them to only use electricity when there is less demand – typically after 7pm. In exchange, they would receive a payment. Larger businesses will be paid for reducing demand, for example by shifting their times of energy use or switching to batteries or generators in peak times.
IMF chief says world better prepared for this crisis
The global economy is at a difficult crossroads, buffeted by multiple shocks including soaring inflation, rising interest rates and a growing threat of broad debt crisis, but IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva told AFP that institutions are better prepared to weather this storm. Interviewed ahead of the IMF and World Bank annual meetings in Washington next week, she said today we have a much stronger banking sector that has proven to be a source of resilience for the world economy. “During the last year since Covid,” she said, “we have extended loans of about $270 billion. We have a lending capacity of $1trillion. So we have space to continue to support members. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, we have provided financial support to 16 countries of about $90 billion and we are currently looking at some 21 requests. My message to countries: act early. Come to us for precautionary instruments so you can build your position in this very difficult time to sustain your economy.”
‘Putin doesn’t joke when he talks about the nuclear threat’ – Biden
US President Joe Biden has warned the world not to underestimate President Putin’s nuclear threat. Speaking at a fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in New York, Biden said the danger coming from Russia is real: “Putin is not joking when he talks about the possible use of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons because his army is in trouble. For the first time since the missile crisis in Cuba there is a threat of a nuclear ‘Armageddon’.”
More Ukraine gains expected
Ukraine is anticipating further battlefield successes as its counter-offensive continues to keep Russian invaders on the backfoot. During his daily address, President Zelensky said, “There are successes in the east as well. The day will surely come when we will report on successes in the Zaporizhzhia region (in southeastern Ukraine) as well, in those areas that the occupiers still control.”
Waiting for the Nobel Peace Prize: eyes on Zelensky and the “anti Putin”
There seems to be a single common thread in the usual jumble of names that precede the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize today: Ukraine. Among the ‘candidates’ stand the President Zelensky, the newspaper ‘The Kyiv Independent’, which since February 24 has been the first source of news on the invasion of Moscow, Russian opponent Alexei Navalny, who from prison makes his voice heard against the tragedy of Putin’s war, the Belarusian opponent Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who, from exile, leads the struggle against President Lukashenko and his policy of unconditional support for the Kremlin – all anti-Putin. But the Nobel Committee has a difficult and in some respects paradoxical decision: to award the Peace Prize to those at war or those like Pope Francis – the undisputed voice of peace in the world. In contention there is also the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, at the forefront of humanitarian assistance to the millions of refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine but also to the victims of regimes and violence. There is the other great theme of climate change: in pole position there are Greta Thunberg and the ‘Friday’s for Future’ movement, the British science writer Sir David Attenborough and Tuvalu Foreign Minister Simon Kofe, protagonist of a heartfelt remote intervention at COP 26, the UN Climate Conference which was held in Glasgow. Also among the candidates is the World Health Organisation, which spent itself during Covid to give a global response to the containment of the pandemic and help, through the Covax programme, to distribute vaccines in the poorest countries. According to bookmakers, Zelensky is the favourite!
30 dead after childcare centre shooting
More than 30 people, among them at least 24 children, were killed and at least 12 injured when a gunman opened fire at a child daycare centre in Nong Bua Lamphu, Thailand, on Thursday. Former police officer Panya Khamrab allegedly entered the centre with a handgun, shotgun, and knife during lunchtime, killing children as young as two before fleeing and attacking bystanders while on the run.Khamrab, 34, had appeared in court just hours before, where he faced trial on possession of methamphetamines which saw him fired from the Na Wang police force last year.